Omar Barghouti was born to a Palestinian family in Qatar in 1964, then moved to Egypt at a young age. He subsequently lived in the United States from 1982-93, earning both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University. In 1993 Barghouti relocated to Israel, where he has resided ever since. He holds a master’s degree in philosophy from Tel Aviv University.
Barghouti’s father was a founding member of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964. “The PLO,” Omar recalls, “was very much part of our family [and] … our upbringing.” Barghouti’s extended family is likewise rooted deeply in the Palestinian Arab movement. His distant cousin, the convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti, was responsible for the murder of numerous Jews during the Second Intifada. Another cousin, Mustafa Barghouti, was a Soviet-educated Communist who once ran for the office of Palestinian Authority (PA) president. Additional relatives include Mohammed Barghouti, a former PA Minister of Labor, and the late Bashir Barghouti, a Jordanian Communist who served as the PA’s Minister of Industry.
In 2001, Omar Barghouti wrote a chapter for a book titled The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid, wherein he not only glorified the Second Intifada as the “tell-tale heart of the old Palestine,” but also condemned the “wildly exaggerated” claims about the threat that the uprising posed to Israeli Jews.
In 2004, Barghouti was a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. In July 2005, he helped establish the Hamas-inspired Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. And in November 2007 he co-founded the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions National Committee. “BDS doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel,” Barghouti once wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times, “it poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide isolation.”
In Barghouti’s calculus, violence and terrorism constitute legitimate means of Palestinian “resistance” to Israeli transgressions. In a speech which he delivered at a Socialism conference in Chicago in July 2011, Barghouti said “we’re not ashamed to have armed resistance as well as peaceful resistance,” because “people under occupation have a right to resist by all means.” Barghouti expanded upon this theme at a 2014 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) event at UCLA, where he maintained that the Palestinians’ “right to resistance by any means, including armed resistance” was a justified response to the “routine terrorism” practiced by Israeli soldiers who, by Barghouti’s telling, often shot Palestinian children merely “for sport.”
Barghouti regularly demonizes Israel as a nation that is guilty of subjecting Palestinian civilians to “legalized and institutionalized racism”; “apartheid”; “violent repression”; “indiscriminate killings”; “genocide”; and “ongoing … campaigns of gradual ethnic cleansing” intended to “Judaize their space.” In a May 2009 interview with Electronic Intifada, Barghouti claimed that “the Israeli occupation and denial of refugee rights is even much worse than anything [apartheid] South Africa had … they never had this level of outright violence and massacres.”
Barghouti has even gone so far as to compare Israel to the Third Reich. In a December 2004 op-ed, for instance, he asserted that “many of the methods of collective and individual ‘punishment’ meted out to Palestinian civilians at the hands of young, racist, often sadistic and ever impervious Israeli soldiers … are reminiscent of common Nazi practices against the Jews.” In December 2009, Barghouti said: “Must we see gas chambers in order for people to react?… Germany did not start with gas chambers, they started with racist laws … and we are seeing this process in Gaza and in the occupied territories and even inside Israel.” At a Sabeel conference in March 2010, Barghouti stated that “there are no death camps” in Gaza because “Israel is a more evolved war criminal. It does things slower.” And in July 2011, Barghouti emphasized that Israel’s impressive scientific and technological achievements were by no means a barometer of that nation’s moral merits: “Do you want me to tell you what Germany had invented before the Nazis?”
Advocating the permanent dissolution of Israel’s identity as the Jewish state, Barghouti characterizes Zionism — which he equates with “apartheid and occupation” — as “a patently racist ideology that has served to enable and justify the ethnic cleansing of most of the indigenous people of Palestine.” In a January 2004 op-ed for Electronic Intifada, he wrote: “We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia.”
Barghouti endorses a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a solution which he says is contingent upon the “de-zionization” of Israel. As early as 2003, Barghouti candidly affirmed that this would mean the creation of “a unitary state, where, by definition, Jews will be a minority.” In 2007, he was one of the authors of a “One State Declaration” calling for “the implementation of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194.” In May 2009, Barghouti stated that precisely because “a return for refugees would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,” “the right of return is a basic right that cannot be given away; it’s inalienable.” In February 2010, Barghouti reemphasized that “we cannot negotiate [the right of return] away … this is something that we cannot compromise on.” And in a 2013 speech in Norway, he declared that “no … rational Palestinian … will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
Contemptuous of America’s strong alliance with Israel, Barghouti in January 2014 claimed: “Israel has a hold on Congress, has enormous influence on Congress, not just because the Zionist Jewish lobby or Zionist Christian fundamentalist lobbies are doing a tremendous job. They … know how to bully, how to intimidate…. Congress is bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
In a February 2015 talk sponsored by an SJP chapter in Portland, Oregon, Barghouti accused the United States and Israel of having secretly conspired to foment Islamic terrorism in order to create a pretext for military intervention and mass killings in the Muslim world. Said Barghouti: “We think that the U.S. and Israel are benefiting a lot from this ISIS phenomenon… Regardless [of] whether … the U.S. intelligence community created the beginnings of ISIS, well, they created [the] Taliban, they created Al-Qaeda, so why not ISIS? I mean, after all, who created bin Laden? It was the U.S. in Afghanistan…. We don’t have conclusive evidence. Regardless, who’s benefiting from ISIS? One thing is for sure: The tens of thousands of victims of ISIS are brown Muslim Arabs, predominantly.”
In 2016, the Israeli government refused to issue Barghouti a travel permit and announced that his residency rights were in question because his “center of life” was in the West Bank. Barghouti countered by stating that he and his family actually spent most of their time in the northwestern Israeli city of Acre, and he characterized Israel’s action as “a clearly political and vindictive measure that has no legal basis.”
In March 2017, Barghouti was arrested in Israel on suspicion of tax evasion. He was accused of having hidden an estimated $700,000 in unreported income that he had gained over a ten-year period from both the Ramallah-based company which he headed (National Computing Resources) and speaking fees.
When Barghouti was presented with the Gandhi Peace Award in 2017, he dedicated his award “to the heroic Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israel’s apartheid dungeons.” This was a reference to a protest that had been initiated recently by Marwan Barghouti and approximately 1,000 fellow convicted terrorists.
During a Facebook live Arabic-language webinar on April 5, 2020, Barghouti said that if Israel were to invent a vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic that was plaguing most nations around the world at that time, supporters of anti-Israel boycotts should not feel that taking the vaccine would be inconsistent with their values, or hypocritical. Likening such a vaccine to medical breakthroughs against other maladies, he also said, according to the Jerusalem Post: “If Israel finds a cure for cancer, for example, or any other virus, then there is no problem in cooperating with Israel to save millions of lives.”
For additional information on Omar Barghouti, click here.
Further Reading: “Omar Barghouti” (CanaryMission.org, NGO Monitor); “The Chutzpah of Omar Barghouti” (2-8-2012); “Omar Detonated” (by Guy Lieberman, 5-6-2015); “Israel Bars BDS Founder Omar Barghouti From Travel Abroad” (Haaretz.com, 5-10-2016); “Israel Arrests BDS Founder Omar Barghouti for Tax Evasion” (5-21-2017).